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March 20, 2014
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Concept vs Visual Aesthetic

Journal Entry: Thu Mar 20, 2014, 5:33 AM
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Recently, on my piece Wired Flesh by TD-ViceI got into an interesting discussion that I find would be of importance to some of my watchers, despite the person being helpless in said discussion and just looking to waste their time.

Basically, I encountered yet another person who cannot grasp the difference between concept and visual aesthetic, and is quick to brand any widespread concept as similar to some popular piece of media that utilized such a concept.

I personally define visual aesthetic in concept art as series of image elements, art techniques and stylistic patterns that unify an array of objects in art into a single, wholesome, stand-out microcosm which is recognized by these elements. It's what allows us to relate a piece of art to a certain time period ("that's so 80's!"), a culture ("typically oriental stuff!") or movement ("absolutely baroque!").

A concept, on the other hand, is a concept – an idea made into flesh. The concept might have a definitive visual aesthetic, or it could be generic. Therefore, the concept is WHAT, and aesthetic is HOW.

However, many people seem to greatly mix the two, or mistake visual aesthetic for style and technique, which are components of the aesthetic, but not it’s contenders.

Here is what I mean under a visual aesthetic. I want you too look at these screenshots of very popular media, game and film, and get a hang of what I’m talking.

Since this blog entry was spurred by Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which I’m sure many of you played, let’s look at it first:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

The most glaring visual aesthetic motifs for DE:HR is the color pallete, which falls into black and yellow/gold/orange. Most of the interface is coded in those two colors. The light and bloom effects, that tinge the games "atmosphere" is in most environments, yellow as well. Such a strict color coding immediately sets a major visual aesthetic theme. Second thing – triangles. Triangles are repeated in most of the environment, deco and character designs, along with pronounced edges in environment and object design. While the exposition may vary, the triangles and angled surfaces find their way in most of the game. And lastly, another big visual aesthetic component of DE:HR – is a use of gloss and glow atop victorian-esque setups, which clashes modernity with classicism for a truly cyberpunk feel.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Dead Space, and it’s subsequent iterations have a defined visual aesthetic as well. It doesn’t just go sci-fy – again, it creates a set of visual rules that all of the game’s elements follow, and as seen on this screenshot, the most evident rule is ribbing. Ribbing is repeated in nearly every non-necromorph object in the game, starting with Isaac Clarke’s s suit, and continuing on with Ishimura’s design, the environments, interface and object. What does that achieve? Unity of space and manufacturer. The Ishimura is feeling solid, made by one company, and existing in a real world.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

And the movie Oblivion, which is color-coded, and shape-coded as well. Most of the movie objects are stark white, including the protagonists suit, his hub, the drones and so on. The drones and the hero’s method of transportation share a similair, spherical contemporary design awfully reminiscent in its cleanness and simplicity Apple’s industrial design, and it manages to convey to the viewere that this is high-tech shit. It’s not just a single design, but a similair design theme running through the movie’s art production that once again ups the degree of believability.

The problem I have with a lot of modern concept art and modern art appreciators – when we’re talking about large industrial projects - is that they’re more focused on the concept, but don’t care much about upholding a unified, natural visual aesthetic.

In concept art this translates into the what I call "generic fantasy cancer", ie "everything and a sink, too!"

Why I call it generic fantasy cancer? Because most of the time, when making a fantasy concept, the artist doesn’t think about a wholesome visual aesthetic, but throws in everything in their visual library that’s about armor and medieval times. Since most of the time the visual libraries are not so big, it translates into a mish-mash of discordant and generic elements, as seen in this example:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

There’s no feeling of unification and believability. In art production, say, in games, the difference between simple concepting and creating a visual aesthetic, in my opinion, is most vividly seen in the Dragon Age series. While many people hate on Dragon Age 2, I hold it in much higher regard than the first installment, Dragon Age: Origins/Awakening, both in story – but most importantly, in art.

DA: O has absolutely unremarkable visual aesthetics, indiscernable from a myriad of other fantasy RPGs. What set this game apart of it’s competition, was a compelling role-playing experience, gameplay and story arch, as also a wide set of character customization options. But the game design seems ragtag, and feels like being done by different people in different places. From the beautifully stylized Orzammar (which I think of as one of the most successful visual languages found for a fantasy race) it drops to the pits of well, this:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

It’s an cutscene screenshot, demonstrating dark-spawn in all their generic, reptiloid glory with what looks like celtic knotwork patterning slapped for no reason on their generically spiky-toothy bad guy armor. The difference between character and environmental and even interface design, the disjointment of it that is demonstrated in DA: O, for me, at least takes away immersion in the game, my belief in it and the satisfaction of playing.

But with Dragon Age 2, the studio went another route, and created a whole new, standalone visual aesthetic and narrative to the game universe, which enabled to solidify its mythos, and present the game universe as something that is wholesome, and not a series of maps and battleground – a REAL place.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Now, look at the dark-spawn design for DA 2 and compare it to the DA 2 design of the main character. Firstly, while it has the same concept (ie, undeadly looking bad-guy goon), the new dark-spawn is visually different from the predecessor, and yet, related to the main character. Certain elements keep them grounded in the same space, signify they share a same reality. But the studio went further. It created environments, interface elements, loading screens, maps:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

All with the same overall visual aesthetic, and that, in my opinion, was a great success. It was done through a specific color pallete, use of fonts, patterns and repeating uniform elements, while adding enough variety and sub-aesthetics to keep the thing lively.

That’s why I feel that it’s important to keep a unified, competent visual aesthetic in concept art. Unfortunately, that is largely depended on research, reference and a big inner visual library, which many artists don’t find necessary to develop or limit by not consuming enough media and art per se, because as seen in the abovementioned examples, the correct thing might be found anywhere in our lives – in architecture, in fine art, in historic pieces, in home appliances and etc. Not just in other media.

I constantly try to keep this in mind when I design characters, outfits and other objects. I try not to delve in disjointed ragtagness and keep the relationship between concept and aesthetic as organic as possible. Doesn’t work at times – maybe, but that’s not a detractor. Because I believe that a concept art’s impact lies 90% in solid visual aesthetic, and only 10% - in the concept on it’s own, and its just a matter of practice and determination to create you own either from scratch or through inspiration in your whole life experience of observing the world around/





Add a Comment:
 
:iconsyndicaidramon:
Syndicaidramon Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2014
I will say, while you're far off target in terms of your social views, you are spot on when it comes to art stuff. And certainly in this case.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oh no, some teenage chick on the internet thinks my social views are "off target"! Clearly her life experience is vast and erudition beyond the trivial! I should totally give a fuck!)

... nah.
Reply
:iconsyndicaidramon:
Syndicaidramon Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014
And your own views are so much more valid because...?
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
And yours are valid because...?
Reply
:iconsyndicaidramon:
Syndicaidramon Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014
How about answering a question before asking one in return? Answer mine, then I'll answer yours.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
How about I conduct a convo as I like?)
Reply
:iconsyndicaidramon:
Syndicaidramon Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014
You may, but if you're not going to conduct it honestly, then you really don't have any business expecting others to play along.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Jeez, I aint expecting nothing from you)) just some 3-min a day entertainment, it's all.
Reply
(1 Reply)
:iconrob-cavanna:
Rob-Cavanna Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2014
I agree completely with your opinions on DA2. I'm curious... what do you think about the design aesthetic of "Remember Me" ?
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I really enjoyed the visuals of Remember me - it's one of the best looking Cyperpunk games out there, hands down, the style is fresh and impeccable, very unified and belieavable, a clear design narrative. However, the game doesn't allow you to explore the setting at all. Moreover, I absolutely hated where the game's story headed, and I didn't even get through half of it because of an ABHORRENT controls and fighting system. Seriously, that shit was BROKEN. Maybe I'm such a noob (I really don't play these kind of games, never touched Arkham Asylum with a ten-foot pole), but the game mechanics were so frustrating that I dropped it and never went back.

I like shooters, man( The only combo-ish third-person types of games I really enjoyed were Prototype and Metal Gear Revengeance - mostly because the controls were done right.
Reply
:iconrob-cavanna:
Rob-Cavanna Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2014
You're not wrong, the controls in Remember Me were abysmal. Just brought it up because I thought it was a good example of unified design theory. Even down to the sound production. 

Good control is essential. A game has to FEEL right.   
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Tbh I think Far Cry3s controls are fucked up as well. Whoever tied sprinting to a thumbstick and melee attack to thumbstick click, should die a horrid death.
Reply
:iconrob-cavanna:
Rob-Cavanna Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2014
:laughing: really? I was going to toss up FC3 as an example of solid controls. But then I probably have much lower expectations for a tight FPS. 
Reply
:iconnicklausofkrieg:
NicklausofKrieg Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2014
yeah, Blizzard's art direction can go fuck itself.
Reply
:iconskeenlangly:
SkeeNLangly Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2014
сильно сказано
безапиляционно
Reply
:iconandehpinkard:
andehpinkard Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
dude thanks for this. its something i actually never understood and NOW i do!
Reply
:iconcaylextimewise:
CaylexTimewise Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014
That's not a real piece of fantasy artwork, is it? The "generic fantasy cancer" example? Because, if so… Christ...
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Its a real one
Reply
:iconrither:
Rither Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2014
Christ, TD, cool off. I read alientomato's comment. It was nothing to get butt-hurt over.
Yes, it's not fun to have your work associated with already existing pieces of art; it makes your work seem less original.
alientomato perceived your pic to be inspired by DEHR, and commented on it. Perhaps s/he played the game recently, and so it was primed to be top-of-mind?
Whether you like it or not, DEHR made a large impact and so of course it will stay top-of-mind on the public for a long time. You will definitely not have had your last DEHR-comment on your work.

Besides, you put your shit up for public display. YOU do that. To get recognition. To receive comments. So don't go throw a hissy-fit when people speak their honest mind and their words don't boost your ego.
If you REALLY don't want to be associated with DEHR, then it is up to YOU, dear TD, to set your art enough apart from DEHR and all other cyberpunk work to NOT be detected by the mass-public as inspired by them.

It is not up to your audience to "perceive your work correctly", it is up to YOU to convey your art in such a way that it RELIABLY delivers the concepts you want your audience to perceive.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hm, I seemed to have written an essay about concept and aesthetics, that is helpful to many people, and yet, in several paragraphs you try to convince me I throw a hissy fit? Nope, sorry, your're the one throwing a hissy fit over my reaction. Thats even sillier.

And to top it off, I still stand by the point that the general public has limited perception capabilities, and even less tact. My work might be viewed and commented upon by anyonem but once you oeave a comment, your taste, perception and everything else, by the same logic, is as open to critique and commenting as the work of art. And I as freely can comment on the menal abilities of the commenter as he does on my art, cuz its aaaaaallll in public.

Dont like it? Tough shit, deal with it.
Reply
:iconkvlticon:
Kvlticon Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2014
Gotta love it when getting comments like "This reminds me of Halo, Call of Duty, Killzone...blah blah blah"

I definitely agree the art direction was better in DA2, though at the same time I thought the game didn't play as well as Origins. I'm not really expecting much from DA3 Inquisition (though some funny drama has already been brewing over that).

MMOs really suffer from generic fantasy cancer though. Armor/outfit and environmental design starts to become questionable, especially in the endgame. When people have the option to dye/recolor their armor, game looks more like I stepped into a cosplay convention than some fantasy world.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think it played better. It was more streamlined in all cases, the combat and quick skill menues and the menu trees themselves were far more fluid and natural.

I hate it when RPG games have these huge inventories, over 9000 types of unlockable/lootable armor, hyper-crafting thingies and all that. I want to be immersed into the game and story, not screw my eyes shifting through endless lists of potions and belts, and trying to figure which give me +1 DMG.
Reply
:iconkvlticon:
Kvlticon Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2014
That is true, though I remained accustomed to the old Origins interface.  Most of my complaints with DA2 probably had to do with the story and companions.

Crafting was definitely more convenient, though it felt weird not having to hunt individual ingredients. The worst craft ever though was making runes in Awakening - that was a money sink and it was horribly inconvenient.

In my experience though, most armors end up getting vendored, since items get powercreeped/outleveled really quickly. If there is something I hated, with regard to over 9000 types of things, it was Skyrim's potions/consumables/crafts. That was a headache.
Reply
:iconimmaculatereprobate:
ImmaculateReprobate Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm having an aneurysm just thinking about all the retards and their inertia related to Dragon Age:Origins. The worst part is that if these mongs squeal enough the devs actually let their awful influence affect the art design. Selective screens and flowery bullshit could lead to DA:I being a camel in the art department.

Fingers crossed that the designers have the sense to ignore the dumbfucks, as I am looking forward to the game.

Went on a bit of a rant, but I agree with everything else in it's entirety, good read.
Reply
:iconnot-worth-it:
Not-worth-it Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2014  Student Writer
Very useful for less artistic minded creatures, like me. A good analysis and deconstruction. I will definitely be keeping this in mind.
Reply
:icontr01ka:
Tr01ka Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014  Student General Artist
And then there's Souls series, designed as solid object with few obligatory things looking out of place. 
Reply
:iconalientomato:
alientomato Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014
Well, the important part is that you neither got too worked up, nor took it personal enough to write a journal post about it...

You're too easily angered is what I think. But that's not important. The important part is, that you need to learn the difference between a simple jab, and outright insults. At no point did I claim that your art looked anything like DX to me; it seemed *inspired* (if you're unsure what the word "inspiration" means, feel free to look it up!) by the DX universe.
I kind of expected you to be better than this. Your insights are without a doubt valuable, though, as you know your way around with a pen.

Oh, by the way: I was talking about the first DX game. Not the fuckups that followed. Seems to me you're more involved in this whole Deus Ex business than me.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
And you need to learn to read. Because this post is clearly not about you) Well except 2 sentences in a 2 page essay)
Reply
:iconalientomato:
alientomato Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014
Well, you know your way with denial too. Good to know, I guess?
Reply
:iconsors-the-luck-bot:
Sors-the-luck-bot Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is sum knowledge right here.

Fukken saved.
Reply
:iconmarsuwai:
Marsuwai Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014
I partially agree with you. A disjointed visual aesthetic can work if the characters come from different cultural backgrounds (like the protagonists in the Diablo games) but, and here I agree with you, it ruins the experience when it happens in the same cultural area (like in Dragon Age) or the details make no sense in context (like celtic knots on darkspawn).

That is why I love RTS games (in addition to the real time strategy) - each faction has a disctinct and thoroughly applied visual aesthetic, and often also their own interesting unit concepts (at least the good ones).
Reply
:iconkittythesilence:
KittyTheSilence Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist
эта вечная дилемма - практичность или эстетичность
та еще заноза
Reply
:iconneetsfagging322297:
Neetsfagging322297 Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014
If I played one of the Dragon Age games, it would definitively be the second one.
Reply
:iconmr-malkov:
Mr-Malkov Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014
Definitely some things I will consider when drawing/designing characters.

Again, a very interesting and informative journal.
Reply
:iconthenecco:
TheNecco Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Student General Artist
I think you kind of blew up at a pretty benign comment, but that's just me
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
yeaaaaahhh... ignoring the fact that there's a 2 page entry that has nothing to do with the banter I mentioned.... Thatt's the kind of shit I do blow up at)
Reply
:iconseukonnen:
Seukonnen Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
One of the more interesting and relevant posts of yours I've read in a good while. However much I hold many of your social and political views in distaste, your artistic insight continues to be something worth paying attention to.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
good that you enjoyed
Reply
:iconagrifex:
Agrifex Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Student General Artist
Thank you for articulating what was rolling round my brain for a while.
I appreciate this post.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
always glad to help)
Reply
:iconskrakar:
Skrakar Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014
I would've understood if that person had compared the picture with Ghost in the Shell since you put a soundtrack from the franchise, but as you said, everyone thinks that Deus Ex invented cyberpunk nowadays. Let's not even think what will happen when CD Projekt RED releases their upcoming cyberpunk game.

Since you mentioned Darkspawn, I think that radically different approaches to design in the two games come from Bioware changing what Darkspawn were supposed to be during later stages of the first game's development which then made them look disjointed and out of place. DA:O tried its hardest to make them look like dragon minions (which could kinda explain the decorations), while DA2 places more focus on the what they're spawned from. But in each case, they're very poorly thought out antagonists.
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Who cares if they're poorly though out, Im talking about design only.

And no, I don't think their first iteration has any dragon connotations, it's just a shitty design job also stiffled by technical limitations. I just think that the art direction team that worked on DA 2 was just lots more competent and strictly controled, and the art director had a wholesome vision, while the first game art director allowed his subordinates to shit all over the place like they wanted.
Reply
:iconskrakar:
Skrakar Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014
Design needs to serve a purpose and Darkspawn's design served no purpose. Design of the Deep Roads made no sense with Zerg-like crap being stuck on every flat surface aside from trying too hard to create a horror atmosphere.

Could you elaborate on what you mean by "technical limitations"?
I'm not sure how you came to the conclusion that in the first game subordinates did whatever they wanted. Aside from Orzammar, everything was...same. It was generic and thus nothing fluctuated in the design. I really can't think of anything that seemed radically different from other parts of the game like in the Diablo picture in your journal aside from pants-on-head retarded Dalish female leather armour.
Reply
:iconcryophase:
Cryophase Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I don't really see how the pieces looks anything like what exists in the DE universe, either. The style and build of the cybernetics and the overall atmosphere are too different.

I think many artists' styles are essentially a result of what media they're exposed to and enjoy(as well as nature, other artists, etc.), but there's the original input too.

Some people lack imagination and cling to what's familiar, and then come in with comments about how such and such piece reminds them of something vaguely similar. Example; I have a picture of an elite in white and purple armor, and someone told me it looks like Frieza, simply because it's white and purple. Or how on pretty much anything with a tropical and alien setting, people compare it to Avatar.

Those kind of comments do piss me off when no similarity was intended. I'd understand it if the likeness was intentional or if it was a piece of fanart, but mostly it's just a case of "well you drew an alien so you must've been inspired by Alien" type crap.
Reply
:iconalientomato:
alientomato Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014
Seems to me that you need better friends and/or acquaintances.
Reply
:iconcryophase:
Cryophase Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
My friends are very strictly quality controlled

My watchers, eh, not so much
Reply
:iconalientomato:
alientomato Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014
Tough world we live in, people having different tastes and opinions and all.
Terrible.
Reply
:iconcryophase:
Cryophase Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Baw
Reply
:icontd-vice:
TD-Vice Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Well that discussion blurb is just a premise for the entry, but yeah, people don't have a very wide scope.
Reply
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